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Musicology Professor Peter Mercer-Taylor wins NEH-Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication

January 29, 2020

Musicology Professor Peter Mercer-Taylor wins NEH-Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication to revive America’s first dose of classical music: 280 Pre-Civil War hymn tunes.

Musicology Professor Peter Mercer-Taylor has won a NEH-Mellon Fellowship for Digital Publication. This grant will allow him to take a Fall 2020 leave to finish up the website associated with his forthcoming book, Gems of Exquisite Beauty: How Hymnody Carried Classical Music to America.

“Back in the day, in the 1840’s-1860’s, the way most Americans got any dose of classical music—Haydn or Mozart— was through hymnals,” says Mercer-Taylor, whose forthcoming website will contain digital scores, with piano recordings, of nearly 280 pre-Civil War American hymn tunes based on melodies culled from Mozart, Beethoven and other European composers, along with some additional choral recordings. “These tune books tended to be used by all major Protestant denominations, but also used by other organizations integral to pre-Civil War american music making–musical societies, singing schools, and choirs.” 

Mercer-Taylor will begin reaching out to choirs nation-wide, seeking recordings of performances of these hymn tunes for the website’s collection. His colleague at the School of Music and Director of Choral Activities, Kathy Saltzman Romey, has recorded two with the University Singers. Mercer-Taylor hopes to gather many more recordings in the months ahead.

The NEH grant awarded to Mercer-Taylor is one of 188 humanities projects across the USA to receive part of $30.9 million for investment in cultural and educational resources. Mercer-Taylor is working in conjunction with the University of Minnesota DASH (Digital Arts, Sciences & Humanities) program that connects scholars with campus technology experts. “This NEH grant was not just a vote of confidence in me, but in the whole DASH team,” he shared. 

Other projects that the grant has been awarded to include the construction of a new campus at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, renovations of the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, and the expansion of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum & Learning Center. The grant also funds scholar research and preservation projects across the nation. Read more here.


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Peter Mercer-Taylor is a musicology professor at the University of Minnesota School of Music in the College of Liberal Arts. He is the author of The Life of Mendelssohn (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Gems of Exquisite Beauty: How Hymnody Carried Classical Music to America for Cambridge University Press (forthcoming), as well as the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn (2004).

The University of Minnesota School of Music is the region's leading institution for the education of successful performers, composers, teachers, therapists, administrators, and scholars. The School connects with the University of Minnesota through classes that foster creativity and artistic thought, participatory performing opportunities, community engagement activities, and more than 400 public performances each year. 

Media Contact: Anabel Njoes, anabel@umn.edu | 612-624-5502